25 May Track & Field Hero
So it’s late May and like many people, my thoughts turn to Junior High humiliation.
I was us visiting my parents in Edmonton recently and drove past Strathcona High School. Scona, as we called it, was the rich school in our part of the city. And by “rich” we meant, “It had its own track.” It’s where all the junior highs in the area held their track and field day. A day that happened every year, right about now.
“What’s track and field day?” Tess asked.
“Well Tess,” I replied, “that’s a day the school puts aside every year for the jock kids to make sure I know I am a complete dork.”
Ok. I didn’t say that. Because it wasn’t completely true. Not completely. Because one spring, one glorious spring in grade 8 when Track and Field day was the day of one of my greatest triumphs in Junior High.
It started, like many painful memories, in gym class about a week before when we went outside to learn all of the Track and Field events. In one period. One hour to learn everything. Mr Petrone guided us through each activity. I’m not sure exactly what he said, but it was something like this:
“Tommy Joe: Don’t even try until the bar is at 35 feet and then clear it.” Done.
“Dave: Run toward the jump while you panic about which foot, which direction, how fast, then I want you to sort of kick one leg out like you’re having a seizure, and just crash into the bar. See if you can knock the stands into the foam pit and bend the bar, then get stuck trying to get out.” Done.
“Hey Keith Wensel: Keep the hot dog in your left hand, grab the shot put like a baseball and then heave it across the entire field.” No problem.
“Dave: See if you can lift the shot without dropping drop the thing on your foot.” Tricky.
“Tony Slemko: I want you to go like a rocket but don’t break a sweat.” Easy.
“Ok Dave: Race as fast as possible, race like you’ve never raced before, push yourself until your legs are burning, and your lungs are coming out of your mouth, then when you’re about half way done I want you to slow down and try to pass off as a volunteer bringing someone water.” Nailed it.
And then we went to long jump pit. Once again – the athletes looked like gazelles jumping over whatever gazelles jump over. I just tried not to get sand in my shorts
But then something magical happened. Mr Petrone said, “While we’re here – there’s the Triple Jump. You gotta Hop, Step, and then Jump.”
Triple jump was ridiculous. And totally uncool. But I noticed something important. No one was trying it. Everyone was working on the long jump. So I went up to Mr Petrone and said, “Show me how it works?” and he did. And I tried. No one else even noticed. I tried one more time. Looked up – he showed me again. And I tried. And then I went home. And worked on it some more. Until I could do it. Sort of.
And then the day arrived. Track and Field Day.
Everything went as planned. I almost puked trying to finish the sprint, my high jump looked like a traffic accident, I barely got the shot put past my shoelaces…
Until we got to Triple Jump.
The first person tried. “Disqualified! ”
The next person, “Disqualified.”
And on through everyone, until they called my name.
I walked to the start, then slowly jogged up to the line. Hopped. Then Stepped. Then Jumped. I didn’t even make it to the sand pit. I landed hard on the track part. I stood there, not moving. Mr Petrone said, “That’s a legal jump. Measure it.”
The measuring kids looked up. “He didn’t even make it to the sand!”
“It was legal. Measure it anyway.”
“There’s no mark. He didn’t make – “
“Just measure it.”
So they did. They shortened the line to where I was standing. And yelled out a distance. And someone wrote it down.
“Ok,” called Mr Debenedetto, “Who’s next?”
And they went down the list.
Every kid that tried was disqualified.
No one could figure it out.
And for the rest of the day, I walked around with a “First Place” ribbon pinned to my shirt. Just like Tommy Joe, just like Tony, just like Keith.
“I was Dave Kelly,” I said, “Triple Jump Assassin.”
I looked in my rearview mirror. John and Tess were sound asleep.